Professor Colin Blakemore’s work branches out into a plethora of disciplines delving into the mechanisms of the brain, thought and perception, in his role as Professor of Neuroscience and Philosophy in the School of Advanced Study. As a renowned neuroscientist with a particular interest in visual perception, he was delighted recently to contribute to the BAFTA-nominated documentary Tim’s Vermeer.
Professor Blakemore was part of the team responsible for this documentary, which explores the symbiotic relationship between art and science. This multi-disciplinary approach is a theme with which Professor Blakemore is familiar, having fused science and the humanities in his role as director of the Institute of Philosophy’s Centre for the Study of the Senses.
He is Principal Investigator for a large grant, Rethinking the Senses, under the Science in Culture Theme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which involves not only collaboration between philosophers and scientists, but also work with artists, designers, galleries, and chefs – including Heston Blumenthal.
This latest cinematic endeavour was conceived by Penn Jillette, half of the American Illusionist duo, Penn & Teller, and it was directed by Penn & Teller, and Farley Ziegler. The film follows Tim Jenison, an inquisitive inventor and software specialist who was a pioneer in desktop video techniques. In the film Jenison dreams of painting like 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. However, he has never studied painting. With this novice skill set as a starting point, Tim embarks on his mission to copy the magic of Vermeer’s masterpiece, The Music Lesson. Through the exploration of lighting, lenses and mirrors, the team explore the radical notion that the special quality achieved by the painter might have depended on the use of optical technologies. A theory causing some outrage within the creative community, as the validity of the art created in this way is called into question.
Professor Blakemore, who provided advice about the physiology and psychology of vision, says that working on the film was ‘an extraordinary experience’. Speaking on Radio 4 today he explained the manner in which an image perceived through a lens differed from perception through the human eye. To hear more of this discussion click here.
‘This has been a remarkable year for high-quality documentary films, and all those involved in the production of Tim’s Vermeer are delighted that it has been included in the BAFTA nominations’, adds Professor Blakemore. ‘I knew that the fascinating theme of Tim’s Vermeer was being sensitively handled, and I was delighted to play a small part in its creation.’
Released to critical acclaim in both Great Britain and the United States, the journey described in the film features a number of experts including English painter David Hockney, UCL Professor Philip Steadman, as well as an extended interview with Professor Blakemore. Adding to its list of accolades the film was also recently shortlisted for an Oscar nomination.
‘A nomination for a BAFTA and shortlisting for an Oscar nomination were beyond the expectations of any of us’, says Professor Blakemore, who will introduce a screening of the film at the Ilkley Film Festival on 16 February. ‘It’s great that the accurate and sympathetic treatment of a subject as apparently arcane as the use of optical instruments by artists might become the feel-good documentary of the year.’
The winners of this year’s BAFTA Awards will be announced on Sunday 16 February at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden. The ceremony is to be hosted by Stephen Fry and broadcast on BBC1.
Image: Professor Colin Blakemore by Lloyd sturdy